QIMR Berghofer study finds genetic link between melanoma and autoimmune conditions

5 April 2022

A new study has found an intriguing link between the genetic risks for melanoma and autoimmune diseases, opening the door for potential new treatments.

The study, published online in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology analysed data from 400,000 people from the United Kingdom and the USA, comparing 36,000 people with melanoma to those without.

QIMR Berghofer’s Associate Professor Matthew Law said the latest research is demonstrating that a person’s genetics play a major role in determining melanoma risk.

“Half the risk of melanoma comes from your genes. Before this research we knew there were 54 genes associated with melanoma risk. This study has confirmed seven more and it has identified another 12 that need further investigation,” he said.

“While the genetic link is a significant step in reducing the gap in our knowledge of melanoma and how we might treat the disease, it is vitally important for people to remember that prevention is better than cure.”

QIMR Berghofer’s Dr Upekha Liyanage said further research could lead to a treatment for people with either condition.

“This finding doesn’t mean people with autoimmune diseases are more likely to develop melanoma but the link we have discovered is very interesting and could prove to be extremely significant,” Dr Liyanage said.

“For example, we may get to a point with further research, where a drug used to treat melanoma could also help people with autoimmune disease.”

Melanoma accounts for more than 80% of skin cancer deaths and is the second most common cancer in men in Australia. Associate Professor Law said people can take simple steps to reduce their risk of skin cancer.

“Sunscreen, hats, long sleeved shirts and umbrellas are an important part of the overall strategy to reduce the risk of melanomas,” he said.